Serving the families of Somerset County
Helen "Chrissy" Webster, Program Coordinator
The purpose of the Family Court Services Program is to provide support services to families who have, or are initiating, domestic cases in the Circuit Court for Somerset County. These cases are primarily divorce, child custody and/or visitation issues. Program staff is not permitted to offer legal advice; however, we can answer any procedural or general questions regarding family law case procedure. Our primary goals are to ensure that cases are processed timely, efficiently and to order appropriate alternative dispute resolution services.
A six-hour online class is offered monthly at a rate of $40.00 per person, per class through Somerset.OnlineParentingPrograms.com. For scheduling and payment arrangement, contact the Program Coordinator. A certificate will be issued to you upon successful completion of two classes covering the following topics:
- Understanding yourself and your child;
- Understanding beliefs and feelings;
- Encouraging your child and yourself to communicate;
- Listening and talking to your child;
- Helping children cooperate;
- Discipline that makes sense;
- Choosing your approach to discipline.
Domestic Violence Intervention
In cases involving domestic violence, a referral may be made to Life Crisis Center. Shelter, food, anger management classes, counseling and support are available. If the Life Crisis Center is contacted before the Petitioner goes to court, a counselor will accompany the client to complete forms in the Clerk’s office and offer support at the Ex Parte hearing.
Additionally, the Program Coordinator, will offer options to consider for the Protective Order hearing, Self Help Family Law Clinic intake assistance, and explanation of terms discussed during the involved hearings. A list of Somerset County Bar Association members if offered, when needed.
Child Custody Investigations
Oftentimes, a child custody investigation with home study is ordered because the court needs the ability to identify and to assist the family effectively regarding allegations of abuse and neglect. For example, the issues could include substance or alcohol use disorders, physical abuse, mental health challenges or poor living conditions for the child(ren).
These are typically ordered during a scheduling conference in absolute/limited divorces, custody modifications, visitation modifications, and cases involving the best interest of the child(ren).
The investigation with home study is conducted by a licensed social worker. Upon payment of the home study fee, the case will be assigned to a social worker who will contact each party by phone or letter. The social worker will perform the following to compile necessary data to report to the court:
- make home visits and interview occupants of the residence;
- contact references (i.e. teachers, doctors and daycare providers;
- obtain a criminal background check;
- review areas such as your abilities to meet the needs of the child(ren), your living arrangements, and ability to financially support your family;
- submit a written report to be filed with the court prior to the merits hearing.
The Program Coordinator maintains a list of approved providers; fees for such service are determined on a case by case basis according to set criteria.
Court Appointed Attorney for Child(ren)
In some cases, the services of a court appointed attorney for the minor child(ren) may be necessary or required. A court-appointed attorney investigates with the parties, their children and those individuals having information that may be helpful to the court in making a custody determination. The attorney may make determinations and recommendations after pinpointing what is in the best interest of the child and whose responsibility is primarily to the court.
Daily living patterns
Other relevant facts, including educational and medical records
Physical and mental health
Personality and temperament
Child’s discipline and chores
Parents’ activity with child(ren)
Child’s relationship with each parent
Child’s attitude with each parent
Child’s attitude toward parents’ extended relationships
The attorney appointed for the minor child may not speak to the parties without the permission of their respective attorneys and the attorneys for the parties may not communicate without the child(ren)'s permission of the Attorney representing the child.
The attorney may participate in any hearing regarding custody, visitation and child support matters. The Best Interest Attorney may also issue subpoenas and call witnesses when it is deemed appropriate and the Attorney believes it reflects the best interest of the child(ren).
The Program Coordinator maintains a list of approved providers; fees for such service are determined by the court (but are not to exceed $145.00 per hour, or a total of $1,450.00 unless further order of the court) and payable through the Clerk of Court.
Substance Use Services
Substance use services derive from the court’s interest in protecting children. When substance use becomes an acknowledged problem, the court determines that a trained clinical drug counselor shall evaluate you, the litigant, for substance use disorder. In addition to performing the evaluation and reporting to the court, the substance use counselor will refer you to treatment and monitor your compliance with the court orders, when applicable.
The Circuit Court for Somerset County utilizes the following providers for court-ordered substance use evaluations:
- J. David Collins & Associates, 410-548-3333
- Peninsula Addiction Services, 410-860-2673
- Eastern Shore Psychological Services, 410-651-4200
The substance abuse evaluation is designed to focus a coordinated and comprehensive effort to attack substance use disorder. The evaluation and recommendation report are filed with the court; your treatment attendance and random urine screening are taken into consideration.
Domestic Legal Services for Inmates
Alternative Directions, Inc. in Baltimore, MD has an updated list of inmates who have filed domestic cases with the court in Somerset County and those case that may need additional legal advice to expedite the case through the system. Alternative Directions, Inc. visits Eastern Correctional Institution one time per month to assist with forms and filing, service and the summons process.
Mediation - Custody & Visitation
Parents are in the best position to make fair decisions for their children regarding custody and/or visitation. It is a primary goal of the Maryland Judiciary to encourage families to resolve domestic disputes without court intervention. A court-approved mediator with 40 hours of basic training, 20 hours of domestic training and required continued education, will help to facilitate an agreement between the parties.
For those parents who are separating, we recognize that this is a stressful time for all persons involved. As you know, your role and responsibilities as parents continue regardless of your marital relationship. For those parents who have never been married, for those who are seeking a modification in their ongoing parenting plan or those who are otherwise struggling with a dispute over parenting or related issues, this can be a stressful time as well. In this time of stress, as parents or those responsible for a child or children, you need to establish workable and effective plans for meeting the needs of your child(ren).
We believe that you know and understand the needs of your child(ren) better than anyone else, and judges, magistrates and court staff cannot deal with these needs as well as parents. What we can do, however, is assist you in establishing arrangements that will help your child(ren) and keep both of you involved in the life of your child(ren).
The decisions you make will be among the most important that you, as a parent, will ever make. The future of your child(ren) will be determined by your wise, thoughtful, loving and deliberate involvement in this service. We urge you to think about this service in this way, put the interests of your child(ren) first and commit yourselves to resolving your personal disagreements.
At the scheduling conference before the Magistrate of Domestic Relations, you will choose dates reasonably convenient with your schedule for this mediation. The mediator will be selected by the Court. Two sessions are suggested but if the parties reach an agreement, one session may be enough. The costs of mediation are to be prorated between the parties. Full payment shall be made to the mediator at the beginning of the session unless another payment arrangement has been made with the Family Services Coordinator.
Mediation - Property & Financials
Mediation is an alternative method of dispute resolution available to parties experiencing separation or divorce. The primary method of dispute resolution has been litigation, in which the separating or divorcing parties are adversaries and a judge or magistrate makes the decisions for the parties. Mediation differs - because the parties work together to decide what is best for them and their financial situation. The topic is restricted to property, alimony and child support issues only.
The mediator is NOT a judge, but helps the parties decide on their own how to resolve their differences. There is a limit to how many mediation sessions may be ordered by the court. For example, a judge may only order two sessions, and then later order two more sessions if deemed necessary. It is important for the mediators to have financial statements from both parties before the sessions are held. The mediator is appointed by the court from a qualified list of court approved mediators. There is more success when each party has attended co-parenting classes prior to mediation.
The process is conducted in the mediator’s office. When an agreement is reached, the mediator must prepare a written draft of the agreement and send copies of the agreement to the parties and their attorneys. The agreement may be approved or modified by the parties. The mediator then submits the agreement to the court for approval and entry as an order. At that time, the agreement may be incorporated into the divorce decree. When an agreement has not been reached, the case will return to the court for a decision by the magistrate or judge. The mediator is forbidden to reveal to the judge anything the parties discussed during the mediation sessions and may not be called as a witness.
Mediation costs are usually based on an hourly rate or a flat fee as determined in the court order. Although there is a cost for mediation, it is possible that the overall cost of the separation or divorce will be less expensive if pursued through mediation rather than litigation. Note: The court may not order mediation in any case where there is a genuine threat of physical or sexual abuse of one of the parties or the parties’ children.
Supervised Visitation & Exchanges
Supervised visitation and monitored exchanges are sometimes ordered. If ordered, these will occur at the Lower Shore Family Center (120 South Boulevard, Salisbury, Maryland 21804). The center offers a safe and neutral location for divorced or separated non-custodial parents living in Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester Counties to exchange or visit their children and to rebuild a healthy parent-child relationship. The purpose is to supervise and objectively report back to the referring judge.
Hours of Operation
Hours of operation may be affected by holidays.
- Tuesday 6:00 p.m. – monitored exchange
- Wednesday (5:30 - 7:30 p.m.) - visitation/exchange
- Friday (5:30 - 7:30 p.m.) - visitation/exchange
- Saturday (11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.) - visitation
- Sunday (1:00 - 4:30 p.m.) - visitation
- Sunday (5:00 - 7:00 p.m.) - exchange
Fees are paid by the visiting parent and are due when child(ren) is picked up.
- Supervised Visitation - $30.00 per hour
- Monitored Exchange - $20.00 per exchange
- Same Day Exchange (no overnight) - $10.00 per exchange
- Procedures and rules for the family should initially be strict, it is easier to lessen restrictions then increase.
- In-take assessment process is completed before the services are utilized; driver’s license number, employment, medical problems, photos, family history and release form are signed should an agency need information (ex. DSS, Court, attorney).
- Separate space is needed for a waiting parent and a visiting parent, but time can separate if space is limited.
- The following procedure is used for Monitored Exchange:
- Non-custodial parent arrives 15 minutes early
- Custodial parent brings children at designated time
- Both parents sign in at different times and areas
- Custodial parent will give any necessary information the non-custodial parent should know regarding medications, school, etc.
- Transport down the hall to non-custodial parent, custodial parent can leave
15 minutes must lapse before the non-custodial parent can leave with the child/ren
- The process is reversed for pick-up
- Observations are recorded
- The following procedure is used for Supervised Visitation:
- Non-custodial parent arrives 15 minutes early and is assigned to a room for the visit
- Custodial parent brings child/ren at designated time
- Both parents sign in at different times and areas
- Children and staff member go to the assigned room to visit with non-custodial parent for designated time
- Staff member facilitates activities for the first half of the session and “relaxed” time for the last half of the visit
- Observations are recorded
- If any member of the staff suspects drug and/or alcohol use prior to the visit or exchange, the visit will be canceled and notification will be sent to the referring agency. No inappropriate behavior will be tolerated. No further visits will be arranged once visitation has been terminated.
- A maximum of 2 hours per visit, unless, otherwise specified by the Program Director. If at any time a Center staff member determines the visit should be stopped, he/she is empowered by the Courts to do so.
- The Managing Director will be responsible for the staff, scheduling, reporting and general programmatic issues.
- There will be NO exchange of any material that has not been approved by the Center. For example, no money, candy or notes will be exchanged. Presents are allowed on specific gift giving days only. These gifts must be unwrapped and approved by the Center prior to your visit. Gifts will leave the Center with Child.
- A staff member will be present at all times and will accompany the child to the bathroom if needed.
- Court cases may not be discussed at the visit with the child/ren or any staff member.
- Promises or talk of future visits will not be allowed.
- No smoking is allowed in the library or the Visitation Center. No one will be permitted to leave the building to smoke once the supervised visitation is taking place.
- It will be the responsibility of the parties to contact the Program Director to find out if the Center is closed due to weather. A doctor’s excuse is expected when a visit does not take place.
- There will be NO provoking, fighting with, swearing at, or physically disciplining the child/ren. If this behavior occurs, the visit will end and the offending person will be asked to leave.
- If required for continuity of care, a release of information form will be available.
- Contact Program Director of LSFC, at Life Crisis, Inc. - 410-749-0771 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday only. For cancellations only, call 410-749-4357 hotline.
- The Center WILL NOT make exceptions to the rules and regulations.
- Interpreters for the hearing impaired will be arranged by the referring agency.
- Please consider your child’s feeding schedule before the visit occurs.
- All staff members of the program can submit a written evaluation in lieu of a court appearance.
Self Help Family Law Clinic
The weekly program provides support and assistance to self-represented litigants with legal advice when completing forms and the filing process. Many litigants who decide to represent themselves will benefit from knowledge of the courtroom procedures and best practices at the time of the merits hearing. The attorney will see a litigant by appointment only every half hour.
A lawyer will be available to eligible clients for free consultation on how to represent yourself and complete forms for:
- Domestic violence
- Name Change
- Modification of child support
- Trial preparation
Self Help Legal Program
Somerset County Circuit Court Annex
30513 Prince William Street
Princess Anne, Maryland 21853
To schedule an appointment, please contact the Family Services Coordinator. Only the litigant seeking legal advice will be allowed to enter.
Child Advocacy Center
The Child Advocacy Center (CAC) provides a child friendly environment in which to interview victims of severe child abuse and sexual abuse. The CAC was formed through the collaborative efforts of county agencies to minimize the child victim's trauma, strengthen cases for prosecution and provide support to the child's non-offending family members. Any child maltreatment should be reported to the local Department of Social Services, (410) 677-4300.